NASA Original Recordings of Apollo 11 Moon Landing That Accidentally Sold to An Intern for US$218 Is Now Worth US$1m

This historic event of man’s first Moon landing was documented and broadcasted to over 500 million people worldwide on television. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Sotheby's is offering the NASA videotape recordings in their upcoming Space Exploration sale. These recordings are not those that the more than half-billion-person television audience witnessed as they provide images clearer and with better contrast.

The original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 lunar EVA are valued at US$1m - 2m. The three tapes with running times of 45:04, 49:00, and 50:15 minutes, respectively, cover almost the entire period of the EVA, including about 9 minutes at the beginning of reel 1 of Mission Control waiting for the lunar-surface camera to be deployed.

Still image from footage

Still image from footage of the engineers at Mission Control prior to landing

The event was captured by a Westinghouse TV camera that NASA had commissioned to transmit images back to Earth from the lunar surface. Moving pictures were sent from the Moon directly to the Parkes and Honey suckle Creek Observations in New South Wales and Canberra and then to NASA Mission Control in Houston using Ampex VR-2000 video recorders onto 2-inch wide reel-to-reel Quadruplex videotape, including the present lot. This means that the images have never been edited.

For the past 43 years, the tapes resided in the collection of Gary George, who bought them for just over US$217 while working as an intern at the NASA Johnson Space Center in 1973. Without investigating into what the tapes documented, George thought about selling them to a local TV station since the tapes could be re-recorded and a new reel of Ampex tape cost about $260 at that time.

Image taken by Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface

The labels "APOLLO 11 EVA | July 20, 1969 REEL 1 [–3]" and "VR2000 525 Hi Band 15 ips" on the tapes caught George's father's attention which led him to store them away safely. In 2008, having heard the news of NASA trying to locate its original videotapes of the Apollo 11 EVA., George played the tapes at DC Video, potentially for the first time since it was recorded. Unfortunately, George and NASA did not come to an agreement as to what they should do with the tapes.

Buzz Aldrin next to the American Flag on the lunar surface

Mr. George’s tapes were played for the second time in December 2008 when they were digitized directly to 10-bit uncompressed files, retaining their original 525 SD4/3 specifications and downloaded onto a one terabyte hard drive. It is possible that the recordings have only been played three times since they were recorded, with Sotheby’s specialists viewing the tapes as the last time.

Top lot

[Apollo 11]. Original, First-generation Nasa Videotape Recordings Of The Apollo 11 Lunar Eva

Lot no.: 104
Provenance: The collection of Gary George (organised by TheValue)
Estimate: US$1,000,000 - 2,000,000


Auction details

Auction house: Sotheby's New York
Sale: Space Exploration (Session 2) (Lots 104-219)
Sale date: 20 July 2019
Lots offered: 115